Earlier this week, in honor of the first day of Summer, I posted a couple recordings of Nat King Cole singing his big hit, “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer.” (If you missed it, you can find them here.)
When I did a little research before writing the piece, I was boggled to learn that the song was actually based on a German song, “Du spielst ‘ne tolle Rolle.” After tracking down the original, though, I realized that as surprising as it was, it almost made a bit of sense, since the music has a German beerhall, “oom-pah-pah” sensibility to it.
The original song was written by Hans Carste in 1962, the year before Nat King Cole released his recording, that had new lyrics by Charles Tobias. The music is essentially the same, though in the German original, right after the brief introduction, there is different music prologue that doesn’t occur in the subsequent American version. The omission is an improvement, at least for the English words. Maybe not in Carste’s original, though.
I have absolutely no idea what the German version is about – though I do seem to hear the word “bikini” in it, same as in the English-language song. So, perhaps there’s an overlap in themes. (Clearly, there is no German word for “bikini.” Either that, or the songwriter felt that “hammerschmittenvergblotten” didn’t scan properly to fit the music.) I ran the title through a translator program, and it came back “You play a great role.” It seems unlikely that that’s perfectly accurate, though a lively song with the word “bikini” in it and the word “play” at least seems reasonable.
If we’re lucky, our website’s resident German scholar and home-care products scientist Dr. Gregory Van Buskirk might chime in with a word or two what the German original is about.
And yes, of course I wouldn’t leave you hanging. And so, to prove I’m not lying, here is the German original, “Du spielst ‘ne tolle Rolle” performed by Willy Hagara. I suspect though that this photo of the fellow in a business suit on the telephone is the songwriter Hans Carste. As for the words at the top, “Schön ist diese Abendstunde,” my handy translator says that that means “The Evening Hour is Beautiful.”
UPDATE: And yes, Dr. Buzz came through. Here's what Greg Van Buskirk, our expert on such things, wrote back to me elsewhere:
I sometimes use an online site, deepl.com, for getting the translation better than with with Google Translate with long texts. Didn't really need it, but here's how it translated the song:
You'll play a great part in the memoirs
That I'll write one day, I swear to you.
I've got plans for my old age
All I need is a pen and paper
Don't be surprised if I tell you today
I'm writing a book, and the main character is you.
You'll play a great part in the memoirs
Because you've done a lot of things with me.
I saw you strolling through Milan in a bikini
I saw you dancing on a table
I saw you boxing with a friend of the Mangano*
Compared to that Brigitte Bardot is a small fish.
You're going to play a great role in the memoirs
I'm going to write, believe it or not
You'll play a great role in the memoirs.
In a few years, you'll be the talk of the town!
*The actress Silvana Mangano (1930-1989) was then - in 1963 - at the zenith of her fame. Today, unlike her compatriots Claudia Cardinale, Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren, she is completely forgotten.
I knew I went to the right place when calling on the eminent Dr. Van Buskirk. I'm curious how he used a translation site since the song was audio -- my guess is that he did extra credit work and tracked down the German lyrics.
A very different song, indeed -- an homage to a beautiful woman. But hey, it's good to know that I was right about hearing the word "bikini" in there -- the only word, it seems, that made it to the American version.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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